To Rebuild, Rethink and Renew

This past fall I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, twice — first, in October, and two weeks later, in the company of Secretary DeVos. There, I saw firsthand the wholesale destruction left by back-to-back hurricanes. The experience was both humbling and uplifting.

During my first visit, I joined the Commissioner of Education for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Sharon McCollum, on a car trip around the Islands. On our way, she noticed the owner of a damaged wholesale club store — he was outside, combing through inventory, trying to salvage any goods that Hurricanes Maria and Irma had spared.

Pausing our scheduled tour, Dr. McCollum stopped the car in front of the store. She began negotiating the sale of cleaning supplies to be used in some of the many schools under her care. Simply getting students physically back to school is a monumental undertaking, she said: they shouldn’t have to fear getting sick from mold and the like once they’ve returned to the classroom.

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“The Spirit is There”


“When can I go back to school?”

When that experience is disrupted, getting back to school can mean everything to students. And the adults who care for them — parents, educators and civic leaders — feel a special urgency.

For our fellow Americans in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, including more than 410,000 students in grades K-12, the 2017 hurricane season severely disrupted those reliable routines. First Irma hit, leaving more than one million people — nearly a third of the population on an island the size of Connecticut — without power. Two weeks later, María followed: one meteorologist likened its impact to a tornado, 50 miles wide, cutting a path of devastation through cities, towns and countryside.

In a three-week period, I travelled twice to visit Puerto Rico — the second time with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

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